Vanuatu has a rapidly growing, mostly rural population spread over 80 islands which makes it very difficult to provide health services. Cataract is still one of the major causes of blindness and almost 60 per cent of people with diabetes have diabetic retinopathy.
In 2001 we launched the country’s first national eye care programme. Before this there was one eye clinic with a part-time eye nurse using outdated equipment. Over the next five years we trained eye specialists, set up two surgical centres, and equipped four provincial hospitals with eye care clinics.
In 2015 the Ministry of Health agreed to help us reach our goal of training three new eye doctors by 2020. The following year we began training Dr Johnson Kasso who graduated at the end of 2018 and has now returned home as the nation's first eye doctor.
We’ve established a diabetes eye disease programme in Port Vila, with visiting eye doctors working closely with local Foundation-trained eye nurses to screen and treat diabetes eye disease patients. Our Pacific outreach team continues to visit to address urgent eye care needs.
Most recently, in early 2019, we opened the new Vanuatu National Eye Centre in Port Vila following a $2.5 million upgrade and expansion of the previous centre. The upgraded eye centre, combined with the recent return Dr Kasso, will go a long way to increasing Vanuatu’s eye surgery capacity from 200 to 800 per year. This will meet the target surgical rate to eliminate avoidable blindness in the country, as estimated by the World Health Organization.